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USVI commissioner lauds Obama's tourism push

Bevan Springer | 3/23/2012, 11:35 a.m.
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St. Thomas, USVI (Feb. 9, 2012)-President Barack Obama's Executive Order announcing a suite of initiatives to significantly increase travel and tourism in the United States was lauded by the tourism chief of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) as "not only a major step forward for the world's biggest travel and tourism economy, but an opportunity for our territory to look at how we might harvest the new opportunities arising from the president's bold initiative."

USVI Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty added, however, that it was important for island territories of the United States to ensure that those implementing the president's initiatives in Washington, D.C., fully understood the critical importance of tourism to their small island economies.

"Long-haul travelers spend, on average, $4,000 on each visit. We applaud the president taking much-needed steps to expand the visa waiver program; reduce the time taken to wait for an interview; and increase the capacity to process visas in China and Brazil by 40 percent during this year," she commented.

"Our economy needs the economic boost from more tourists. We will look at how we in the USVI can harness the increased visitors from Brazil, China and other beneficiary countries," Nicholson-Doty added, explaining she expects the influx in tourists to the United States to benefit the Caribbean as a whole, "especially from long-haul destinations."

The commissioner congratulated her neighbor island colleague Mario Gonzalez-Lafuente, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC), on his appointment to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, which provides stakeholder feedback on the challenges being faced by the U.S. travel and tourism industry as well as ideas on how the federal government can strengthen this important sector.

"We look forward to working with Mr. Gonzalez-Lafuente and the PRTC in their representation of all U.S. territories and the Caribbean region," said Nicholson-Doty. The tourism commissioner reported that the long-term tourism development strategy for the USVI will look at ways to harmonize its activities with the national strategy announced by Obama.

Noting that travel and tourism is a $1.2 trillion sector of the U.S. economy, nearly 3 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), she said, "We in the U.S. Virgin Islands are more dependent on the sector, with travel and tourism accounting for roughly 30 percent of our GDP, so we will continue pursuing new avenues to strengthen and market our tourism product and find more ways of getting our messages across to policy and decision makers in Washington."